Argo & the missing Paykans

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Paykans in Isfahan
▲ Paykans and the Ayatollah in Isfahan

OK it’s a movie, not a book or an article – I went to see Argo the Ben Affleck film about getting six American diplomats out of Tehran during the 1980 Iran ‘hostage crisis’. Great movie although it’s been criticised for glorifying the CIA’s role and downplaying the part the Canadians (who sheltered the Americans until they were smuggled out) played.

Even worse the film stated that British and New Zealand diplomats wouldn’t help, which was why they went to the Canadians. In fact they were originally sheltered by the British and only shifted from there to the Canadian ambassador’s house when it became unsafe to remain with the British. The New Zealanders had rented another house which they intended to move them to if the Canadian place became unsafe. Plus they were driven to the airport by the New Zealanders, not by the CIA guy as in the movie. And the plane tickets were organized, not by the CIA in America, but by the wife of the Canadian ambassador who in fact bought duplicate tickets to be certain.

For me, however, the uncomfortable inaccuracy was the total lack of Paykans. Anybody who has spent any time in Iran (and can recognize cars) will know that the vast majority of cars on Iranian roads are Paykans. Back in the hostage crisis era almost every car would have been a Paykan. Disclaimer – in an earlier lifetime I was an engineer and worked for Rootes Cars in Coventry, England. In the ‘60s and ‘70s Rootes produced a car called the Hillman Hunter and they eventually sold the entire Hillman Hunter production line to the Iranians. The Hunter’s code name at the prototype stage was ‘Arrow’ and guess what Arrow translates as in Farsi? Yep, Paykan.

Paykans in Tehran
▲ At the traffic lights in Tehran, every car is a Paykan

The movie is certainly authentic in using cars of the period, but not a single Paykan/Hillman Hunter makes an appearance. I kept thinking a Paykan would show up as a taxi at least. It would have been no trouble to find a dozen of them and make it look much more authentic – for people like me who know Iran a little at least.